WASHINGTON — A Trump administration official sought to speed the spread of the coronavirus among children and young adults in order to achieve “herd immunity,” according to documents released Wednesday by a top House Democrat.
Paul Alexander, a senior adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services, repeatedly encouraged adoption of a policy to increase the number of virus infections among younger Americans, saying they have “zero to low risk,” according to documents released by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
In one email message, Alexander said “Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc” should be used “to develop herd … we want them infected,” according to the documents released Wednesday.
“Achieving herd immunity before a vaccine is widely available — which requires a very large portion of the population to get infected with the coronavirus — has been widely rejected by scientists as a dangerous approach that would lead to the deaths of several hundred thousand Americans at a minimum,” Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, chairman of the panel, said in the memo to members of the committee.
The emails were first reported by Politico.
Herd immunity is when most of population is immune to an infectious disease, stopping the spread of a disease. Depending how contagious a disease is, roughly 50% to 90% of the population must be immune, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“In the worst case (for example, if we do not perform physical distancing or enact other measures to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2), the virus can infect this many people in a matter of a few months,” according to information on the Johns Hopkins University website, referring to the scientific name of the coronavirus strain. “This would overwhelm our hospitals and lead to high death rates.”
In a series of messages during the summer, Alexander continued to make the case to other officials to open up college campuses and businesses to increase the spread among the young and relatively healthy, while maintaining distancing measures for the elderly.
“The issue is who cares? If it is causing more cases in young, my word is who cares,” Alexander said in a July message. “As long as we make sensible decisions, and protect the elderely (sic) and nursing homes, we must go on with life ... who cares if we test more and get more positive tests.”
In August, President Donald Trump expressed support for the approach, saying the virus would “go away” once herd immunity was reached. However, other Trump officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, denied that the administration was pursing herd immunity as a way to handle the virus.